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Housing Minister Grant Shapps responds to Guardian article about Supporting People funding

The Government is protecting the homeless from council cuts By suggesting that reductions in council budgets will “wreak devastation on the…

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Government is protecting the homeless from council cuts

By suggesting that reductions in council budgets will “wreak devastation on the lives of tens of thousands of the most vulnerable people”, Patrick Butler paints an apocalyptic picture of impending social disaster that I simply do not recognise (see ‘On other sites’ top right).

Tackling homelessness is what first got me into politics, and I am proud to be part of a government that, despite tight public finances, has committed to support the most vulnerable in this country. We’ve entirely protected homelessness funding at £400m in the spending review, and took deliberate steps to protect this central funding so that the impact of cuts do not fall on those most in need. So I completely disagree when Butler says that councils “have no choice but to drastically cut Supporting People, given the reduced size…of the wider financial settlement”.

The Supporting People housing programme was relatively shielded from the public sector spending reductions - so, nationally, for every pound Supporting People funding provided last year, 99 pence will be provided this year. And this government didn’t remove the ringfence - that was done in April 2009.

Local authorities on average will only receive a reduction in their overall spending power of 4.4 per cent this year, and we have taken steps to cap the maximum reduction for any individual council at 8.9 per cent to protect those dependent on government grants.

Of course, I won’t insist on how much “each council ought to spend on Supporting People” as Butler suggests I do, because councils are best placed to know local needs and how to meet them. So there is no excuse for councils to be targeting any disproportionate spending reductions on programmes that support the most vulnerable.

There are, as Butler says, “complex health and social issues that derive from or are intensified by having nowhere to live”. That’s why in opposition I founded the Conservative Homelessness Foundation, and set up the Ministerial Working Group on Homelessness as soon as we got into government. This is a long-term commitment to work closely with colleagues across government and the charitable sector to better tackle the myriad issues that contribute to homelessness and rough sleeping and to strip away barriers and bureaucracy at the local level.

So I completely disagree with Butler’s assertion that the effect of the funding settlement for councils “will be there to see on our streets”. If I thought this would in any way increase homelessness and rough sleeping, I certainly would not support the moves we are making to ensure every taxpayer’s pound is spent more wisely.

In government we’ve made tough decisions to ensure that funding is focused on protecting key frontline services. But I absolutely dispute the view from one council mentioned in Butler’s piece that they see “absolutely no reason…to spend the [Supporting People] money on supporting vulnerable citizens in this way”. While we recognise the challenges councils are facing, we do expect to see them match our commitment to the most vulnerable.

Published 25 January 2011